The USS Oxford (AG 159) was originally commissioned a Miscellaneous Auxiliary ship in July 1961 in New York. She was immediately outfitted to participate in the National Security Agency’s Technical Research Ship (TRS) program — though she would not be redesignated an Auxiliary Technical Research Ship (AGTR-1) until years later in 1964.
The Center for Cryptologic History’s Almanac 50th Anniversary Series article, “The TRS Program Part I: The Beginning,” describes perfectly the Oxford’s significant contribution to the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The Oxford was officially known as a Technical Research Ship. Its initial mission was a training cruise. This gave the crew a chance to familiarize themselves with equipment on board and to identify any problems with the newly refurbished, redesigned ship before traveling to the Middle East. Although several features were identified that required change or improvement, overall the test proved to be a great success. For example, the Oxford recorded frequencies and collected a large number of other transmissions. As the capabilities of the Oxford became clear, the list of potential targets for these ships quickly expanded to include countries all over the globe.
In August 1962, as relations between the United States and the Soviet Union over Cuba grew increasingly tense, the Oxford was diverted to the Caribbean. Its mission was to collect the communications coming out of Cuba, used by both Soviet and Cuban entities. The Oxford proved to be the largest producer of SIGINT during the Cuban Missile Crisis [emphasis added]. The communications it collected provided a great quantity of information which, when combined with the photographs from the U2 overflights, provided a very good picture of what was happening in Cuba.
USS Oxford’s success in the Cuban Missile Crisis “demonstrated the value of the TRS program” and paved the way for naval cryptology aboard future Technical Research Ships: Georgetown, Jamestown, Muller, Belmont, and Liberty.
24 November 2020 at 16:13
I reported aboard USS OXFORD (AG-159/AGTR-1) in Portsmouth, VA early May 1963. She was in drydock for some
repairs and refitting of some of the ‘equipment’. Our first cruise was ORE off Gitmo, back to Norva and then to San Juan, PR. After replenishment we sailed south — making most of the crew (particularly CTs ‘Shellbacks’ and visiting
Montivideo, Buenas Aires and Rio on way back north. Hit a storm off Cape Hatteras that put us in drydock back in
Portsmouth for 4 months before we could get underway again. We still collected much sigint/comint/elint on my 1st
cruise and the next two cruises I spent aboard her until I transferred to London in Dec 1964. I could tell many stories
of my time on OXFORD — I enjoyed my tour on her very much.